By Brian Monzo
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It came down to the last day – but the NHL playoffs are set. The Rangers found their way in (small miracle) thanks to Carolina no-showing for their season finale. The Blackhawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions, made the final cut in the West without destiny in their hands. Here is a look at each match-up, starting in the West.
Vancouver Canucks (1) – Chicago Blackhawks (8) The Canucks, the winners of the Presidents Trophy, certainly will not have a walk in the park when Chicago comes to town. The Blackhawks may have a rookie goalie in nets, Corey Crawford, and a lot of injuries (2nd line center Dave Bolland) but with their stars intact (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith) the Hawks are still a force. The Canucks have the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler and goalie Roberto Luongo, but they are missing their checking center, former Ranger Manny Malhotra. The Canucks have been known for coming out like madmen, but finding ways to lose. Everyone is buying into the Canucks this season — I am not. Chicago finds ways to win. Chicago in six.
San Jose Sharks (2) – Los Angeles Kings (7) For Joe Thornton and the Sharks, a lot of people feel this could finally be their year. Antti Niemi is a winning goaltender, and the second half the season, the Sharks were dominant. The Kings have a solid core of young defensemen led by Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, as well as two great goalies, Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier. Two weeks back, their best player, Anze Kopitar, went down with an ankle injury. The Sharks special teams is top notch – especially with Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley clicking. Kopitar’s injury will kill the Kings. Sharks in five.
Detriot Red Wings (3) – Phoenix Coyotes (6) For the Red Wings to be successful, their goaltending has to show up. That normally is not a problem, but Jimmy Howard got banged up late in the season, and could be playing through a shoulder injury. The Coyotes don’t have the best ability to score, but get the job done with players like Shane Doan, Ray Whitney and Keith Yandle. Ilya Bryzgalov is tough in the net for the Yotes as well. Henrik Zetterberg has been hurt, and for once, I don’t believe in the Red Wings. They have home ice advantage, but not a team advantage. Coyotes in six.
Anahiem Ducks (4) – Nashville Predators (5) A lot of people are calling this the hardest series to predict in the playoffs. I have no problem with this one. The Predators have had a great run, and Pekke Rinne has been dominant in goal. The problem is they cannot score goals. Shea Weber is a dominant force on the blue line, but it will not be enough. The Ducks have a 50 goal scorer, Corey Perry, a star, Ryan Getzlaf, a soon-to-be 50 goal scorer, Bobby Ryan, and the ageless Teemu Selanne. Their goaltending is a question mark with Jonas Hiller’s health and Ray Emery and Dan Ellis playing the rotating roles. Their defense is up in the air as well, but it will not hold them back. Not here — and maybe not throughout the playoffs. Ducks in five.
Washington Capitals (1) – New York Rangers (8) Everyone has said in the late part of the season that the Rangers will be the hardest team to eliminate in a seven game series. Some people went off that thought when Ryan Callahan went down with a broken bone in his leg with two games left in the season. The Capitals have been the best team in the NHL since January 1st. Although Alex Ovechkin hasn’t had a typical ‘Ovie’ season – the Caps have still found ways. The Rangers have Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, bound to pair against Ovechkin, as well as the rest of the team ready to block as many shots as possible. As good as the Caps have been, their goaltending is still not there. They can score, but Henrik Lundqvist is going to need to stop them. Big moment, big moment goalie. Rangers in five.
Philadelphia Flyers (2) – Buffalo Sabres (7) I can’t believe goaltending is still an issue for the Flyers. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t. Between Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton – the Flyers will not be able to advance. It doesn’t matter how good their offense and defense is — a defense potentially without Chris Pronger — the Flyers will find themselves with question marks in net. The Sabres have the opposite in Ryan Miller. Miller shows up in primetime — which is what this is. With the addition of Brad Boyes, along with Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold on the blue line and a red hot Thomas Vanek surging, you cannot help but love the Sabres here. They finished the season on fire, and will bring that with them in the playoffs. Sabres in four.
Boston Bruins (3) – Montreal Canadiens (6) This will likely be the most watched series of the first round. Coming off the Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty disaster, these two teams will play as if it is World War III. Both teams are pretty equal, but the changer will be Tomas Kaberle, the puck moving defenseman the Bruins got from the Leafs before the trade deadline. Kaberle’s play on both ends of the ice is crucial. While the Bruins power-play has been awful, Kaberle will help it in the playoffs. The Habs power play has been typically outstanding but they are a small team, and with the Milan Lucic led Bruins being as physical as they are, I cannot see Montreal winning this. Their goalie is overrated (that’s right, Carey Price is overrated), and they have no one that Chara cannot stop. Gotta love the Bruins here. Bruins in five.
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) – Tampa Bay Lightning (5) Tampa Bay needs to do the league a favor and eliminate the Penguins here. If they fail and the Pens get Sidney Crosby and Matt Cooke back for the rest of the playoffs – they will be scary. The Penguins have issues scoring, and the Lightning do not. The Penguins, with Marc-Andre Fleury, have the goaltending advantage over Dwayne Roloson – but if the Lightning can find a way to get leads early, it could be an early exit for the Pens. Jordan Staal can stop people, but he can’t score. The Pens have been great, but it is going to be a real challenge to stop Vinny Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis. I don’t think the Pens can win this. Lightning in seven.
You will notice, nothing I wrote had anything to do with home ice advantage. I don’t think it is a factor with so much parity in the league.
Some of these may be upsets, some may not be. My ‘lock it up’ series is the Lightning over the Penguins.
Cup Champions: I like the Anaheim Ducks. Great offense, solid defense and when healthy, dominant goaltending.
Who will hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup? Leave your pick below.